From Hooves to Highways

Dr. J. E. Fergusson-Stewart



Dr James Edmund Fergusson-Stewart, or Fergus, as he was known, was the younger brother of Drs Mitchell Stewart and Roberta Jull. When he joined Mitchell’s practice in 1896, he added ‘Fergusson’ to his surname, likely to avoid there being two Dr J Stewarts practising in the same small town. A few years later, he may have been glad not to be confused with Mitchell in the newspapers.

In Guildford Fergus soon met young Enid Drake-Brockman - one of the founding students of Guildford Grammar School, and daughter of WA’s legendary Grace Bussell and Surveyor-General Frederick Drake-Brockman. They were engaged when she was 16 and married a few weeks after her 19th birthday in January 1902, with many guests declaring she wore the most beautiful wedding gown they had ever seen. Two sons were born while they lived in Midland Junction; Edmund in 1903 and Athole in 1906. That year, Fergus’ brother Mitchell opened his practice in Perth and Fergus took over in Guildford. They moved, in 1907, to 25 Market Street, Guildford, a gracious brick home still standing today. There, two more sons were born; Alister in 1909 and Vernon in 1913.

“Much of the travelling was done at night by horse and buggy, and by railway trolley … Dr Stewart became one of the earliest motor car owners in this State, but the primitive nature of the roads and of the cars frequently resulted in delays on long country trips, with the result that horses were favoured as being more reliable in urgent cases.”

The West Australian, 19 April 1937

Major James Edmund Fergusson-Stewart, Australian Army Medical Corps, in November 1914, just prior to embarkation. Courtesy State Library of Western Australia, Image b1956093_2.

Fergus was a captain in the militia and medical area officer at Guildford. He was commissioned early in WWI at the rank of major, but was struck down with typhoid on the voyage to Egypt, and disembarked at Colombo in January 1915. On recovery he returned to Australia, to embark again from Adelaide in May. In Egypt, plagued by typhoid, he was invalided once more, this time to England. He went on to serve, briefly, with the Field Ambulance on the Western Front, but in mid-1916 his appointment was terminated. He returned to Australia at the rank of lieutenant colonel and was discharged in January 1917 to resume his practice.

In 1927 Fergus planned an extended trip, for both study and leisure. He sold the practice and their Market Street home to Dr Arthur Rygate in February 1928, and spent the next year studying in Scotland and Vienna, and touring the United Kingdom and Europe; no doubt visiting his brother Mitchell and sister-in-law, Muriel, while in England.

They returned in March 1929, the Western Mail of 21 March reporting Enid was “perhaps not quite so slim as of yore, but even better looking.” Despite the extra weight, two months later she wore her magnificent wedding gown once more, to the (now Royal) Historical Society’s Centenary Ball at Government House.

Fergus began setting up practice once more, this time in Perth, but the effects of The Great Depression soon began to be felt. Neither wanting the expenses of a Perth practise, nor to struggle under debt, in late 1929 he and Enid moved to Carnarvon.

A few years later, ill-health forced him to cease practicing, and he became the patient. Despite treatment in Carnarvon and Perth, he died on 16 April 1937, aged 62. Enid lived to 99 and died in Nedlands in 1980. “I’ve been widowed a long time,” she said, in an oral history recording available at the State Library of Western Australia.

“The death occurred on Friday night, at Carnarvon, of Dr J E Fergusson-Stewart, a former president of the West Australian branch of the British Medical Association, after a protracted, illness.”

“The late Dr Stewart was 62 years of age, and for the past 40 years had practised his profession at Midland Junction, Guildford and Carnarvon. Born in Portugal, the late Dr Stewart was the son of the Rev Robert Stewart and he was educated at the Leys School, Cambridge, and at the Glasgow University. On graduating in medicine at the age of 22 years he came to Western Australia where his brother, Dr J M Y Stewart, was already in practice. After travelling through the North-West for some months the late Dr Stewart joined his brother as assistant at Guildford for a short period before commencing practice at Midland Junction.”

“He married the eldest daughter of the late Mr F S Brockman, Surveyor-General of the State. In 1906 the late Dr Stewart took over the practice at Guildford while his brother became a specialist in Perth. The Guildford and Midland Junction practices of the late Dr Stewart, early in this century, were so extensive that medical calls had to be answered as far afield as Gingin, Mogumber and the mill settlements in the Darling Ranges, with the result that he became widely known.”

“The late Dr Stewart entered the volunteer defence force before Queen Victoria's Jubilee celebrations. When the Commonwealth took over the State's defence he retained the rank of captain in the Medical Corps, and was area medical officer for Guildford. At the outbreak of the Great War he entered Blackboy Camp and went on active service early in 1915, first with the 7th Field Ambulance and then with the 4th Field Ambulance. He was promoted to the rank of lieut-colonel. After two years' service in France he returned to Western Australia on exchange duty and resumed practice at Guildford. Until 1927 he was area medical officer at Guildford and health officer to the Guildford Municipality. He then disposed of the practice and went abroad, taking post-graduate courses in surgery at Edinburgh and Vienna. He returned to Perth in 1929 but after six months in the city he purchased the practice at Carnarvon, where he was resident medical officer, acting for the State in health matters and the Commonwealth in quarantine. He was one of the earliest to become interested in banana cultivation on the Gascoyne River. Apart from his brother (Dr J M Y Stewart), his sister (Dr Roberta M Jull) was also closely identified with this State's medical history. He is survived by his widow and four sons.”

The West Australian, 19 April 1937

 Where, What, When

Mrs Enid Fergusson-Stewart is driving Fergus’ 1903 De Dion Bouton Q. She is parked at the front of their new home at 25 Market Street, Guildford in the summer of 1907-1908. Beside Enid is their son Athole (nearly two) and beside him is their older son Edmund (four and a half).

Fergus must have liked the make, for in May 1910 he bought another, larger, De Dion, from the Armstrong Cycle and Motor Agency.

De Dion (8 H.P., 1 cyl.) the property of Dr. Ferguson Stewart